ACT 4: Flight of the Titans

Chapter 2: The die is cast


History of Despair

Part 8

Desperate for speed

Tatsuya Toshishai never asked for a thrilling life. For once, he wasn't built for such a thing. There was only so much his petite body could tolerate and Tatsuya had to get creative at times to get the package to its destination when faced with impediments ranging from bad weather to unexpected roadblocks. Following two separate incidents where he nearly got run over by a truck and got chased by a fierce (but not rabid as he initially thought) canine, his parents told him to not push himself too hard and that it was alright if he abandoned the job for the sake of his own safety. Though Tatsuya never heeded their advice and made sure all deliveries were completed no matter what, he developed a knack for avoiding dangers whenever they manifested.

Another reason was that Tatsuya saw no reason to radically change. He had a successful career and loving parents. And with his enrolment into Hope's Peak Academy, he believed that things could only get better from there by keep doing what he did best. Even after the school got closed down during his field project due to undisclosed reasons, Tatsuya remained confident in the path he was taking and that the years he spent honing his talent would still prove useful.

Yet, when adventure came knocking, Tatsuya was reluctant to turn it away.

A teacher from Hope's Peak Academy came to Tatsuya's shop one day, revealed herself to be a secret agent, and asked him, for a large bounty, to smuggle a suitcase containing vital trade secrets out of the city. A rival school wanted this information and would do anything to get it.

"Miss Yukizome," said Tatsuya, still unsure about what he had just heard from the teacher with the distinct red hair. He recognized her as the bubbly homeroom teacher of Class 77-B. Unlike Amelda and El Viento, Tatsuya very rarely mingled with students outside his own class. "Are you s-s-s-sure that I am the one? I mean, there must be o-o-others for the job."

"This mission is of utmost vital for our school," Chisa Yukizome reiterated. Her expression was grimmer than what Tatsuya normally saw from her. "We have others for the job, yes. But none of them can do it as well as you do. You are the best of the best in this field. You are the person we need."

"B-b-b-but... I don't know if I can do it," said Tatsuya. "I have never... This is..."

"I know it will be difficult for you," said Chisa softly. "You have the right to be apprehensive. But the fate of our school and possibly the whole nation is at stake. If our rival gets a hold of our data, not only will Hope's Peak Academy loses its market share, but we have every reason to believe that they will use it for unethical experiments. No one wants that to happen, right?"

Tatsuya was smart enough to figure out the manipulative tone behind Chisa's gentle visage. However, his love for Hope's Peak Academy and loyalty to his classmates and friends ultimately won out. Even if the mission put him in peril, he would still see to it. At the conclusion of the conversation, Chisa gave him the suitcase, reminded him not to open it or let it fall to the enemy, and then wished him good luck right before departing.

The next morning, Tatsuya set out on the trusted electric bike he used for long-distance deliveries. He had not informed his parents about this and a heavy burden weighed down upon his heart that he should engage in deceit against the people whom he owed so much. Still, the task at hand was confidential and he was loathe to get them involved as well.

The journey started slowly due to heavy traffic. Apparently, there was a general panic among the population due to a series of unfortunate as well as horrific incidents. Things were getting so bad that Tatsuya and his parents stopped watching the news altogether, not wanting to be surrounded by negativity all the time. Many were trying to move to the countryside which they deemed was safer, and led to congestion.

Using various detours and pushing his bike on foot at times, Tatsuya was able to maintain mobility. But just as the traffic seemed to lessen, another woe arrived. Two men whose faces were hidden behind their helmets rode a bike in the opposite direction. As they passed Tatsuya, one of the men reached out in an obvious attempt to seize the suitcase he was protecting. They did so when Tatsuya's other flank was barred by a parking car, limiting his ability to evade. The Ultimate Delivery Boy was quick to react. He swerved to the other side at just the right time, barely avoiding both the agent's grasp as well as crashing into the obstacle.

Now, it was on.

The two men proceeded to chase. Using his knowledge of the routes, the often frantic and unruly traffic, and his own amazing biking skills, Tatsuya managed to keep himself always one step ahead of his pursuers. Despite the clear advantage in vehicle speed, the rival school's agents were unable to get within five meters of Tatsuya as they were constantly slowed down by other vehicles as well as the delivery boy's often erratic swerves and turns.

Though intimidated at first, Tatsuya grew happier and bolder along the journey. He did not expect to enjoy the mission as much as he did, the grin on his face growing larger and larger each time he evaded his opponents. Tatsuya had always found the vehicle chase scenes in movies exciting to watch but never thought he would ever become a part of it. And it was as awesome as he could have ever imagined. The whole sequence was an exhilarating ride from start to finish, quite worthy of being adapted into a film by itself.

The Ultimate Delivery Boy outsmarted and outrode his pursuers at every turn. Even as more reinforcement arrived on a variety of vehicles ranging from unicycles to helicopters and even battle tanks, none of them was able to do Tatsuya in. His innate talent as the Ultimate Delivery Boy, further nurtured by two years studying at Hope's Peak Academy finally paid off big time. Tatsuya felt self-actualized by this. He was the embodiment of speed. He was the avatar of Hermes. He was untouchable.

The pursuit ended in a climatic manner. Faced with impassable roadblocks, Tatsuya abandoned his bike (the money Chisa paid to his account in advance was more than enough to buy three of it) and finished his journey on foot by running through buildings and alleyways without caring about the restricted nature of the areas he was trespassing. By noon, he finally reached the meeting point where he delivered the goods to Chisa's associate.

And with that, his mission was completed.

One week later, the world was shaken by a series of attacks spearheaded by horribly mutated and ferocious humans and animals. Entire cities were turned into charnel houses while entire regions were depopulated as unnatural combinations roamed and hunted and killed anyone they came across. These atrocities were committed by the terrorist group Ultimate Despair using the knowledge accumulated from years of illegal genetic research. This research was not their own but from one of Hope's Peak Academy's secret facilities - research that was stolen by none other than Chisa Yukizome and transferred to Junko Enoshima via a courier.

By the time the special force arrived to arrest Tatsuya, he was already gone. Driven to insanity by the truth of what he helped to accomplish and motivated by the wonderous thrill he had felt, the Ultimate Delivery Boy readily joined the Ultimate Despair for a life full of adventures.

Now, it was truly on.


Day 13

Tartarus Keep

7:00

Residential Area

I woke up and asked myself why I was still trying. With each passing trial, our group grew smaller as more of our numbers succumbed to the twisted Mutual Killing Game. We started out with sixteen, and now only ten were left. If counting Bianca, there were eleven of us. And still, we were no closer to finding our way out of this mess. Almost every revelation and discovery so far had only brought further distress, from what was happening to the world outside to the horrors lurking within this castle, from the talents of our enemy to the technological advantage in the paws of Monokuma - he himself a talking mechanical bear perfectly capable of complex functions beyond what any robot I had seen could do.

And even worse, if we did manage to escape, then what next? Where would we go? Was there any safe haven for us, after what we had witnessed and done?

One of us attempted murder twice: Hijiri the geisha.

One had most likely killed in the past: Dirty Fitzgerald.

Two were real murderers: Yume the Magical Boy and me.

And there was no telling if any of us didn't have blood on our hands given the huge memory gap that spanned our entire duration at Hope's Peak Academy all the way up to its demise and the collapse of society.

Although I had acted as though Nanami's accusation rang hollowed, it did affect me in the end. I took part in military training at a young age, practiced hand-to-hand combat until I could drop someone twice my size who relied purely on instinct, learned to assemble and maintain guns while I still didn't have my own laptop, and my first shots were with a pistol and long before I was old enough to go into a bar. With all of that, plus the implication that Chiaki Nanami might be involved with the Ultimate Despair meant I should have been comfortable with killing her. In fact, as some of my classmates advocated, I should have seen it as the necessary thing to do.

Yet, there was something about taking lives that didn't feel right to me. It was a matter that should not be taken lightly. For instance, superheroes like Batman and Superman did their best to avoid killing the villains, no matter how evil, dangerous, or inhuman they were. It never occurred to me that the lesson of self-restraint when exercising the power to determine the fate of others would be so profound right now. When I was younger and going to synagogues more often, the local rabbi had preached that such power and right resided only within God. I asked myself by killing someone whether I was interfering or simply carrying out His divine will should that individual have it coming.

While Inori's crime was the result of a tragic accident, Kazuki, Hijiri, and Yume had all tried to kill someone else of their own volition. Each had their own motivation, each with dubious justification for the crime they committed, each convinced they were doing the right thing. I wondered what went through their mind when they decided to bring death upon somebody else which, in the process, endangered themselves the retribution entailed by the Mutual Killing Game. I could ask the latter two myself. Then again, I probably didn't want to delve into whatever madness that had overcome them.

I used to enjoy starting the day by thinking ahead and anticipating foresight. However, lately, this was becoming more and more of a pointless chore and a drain on my morale. Every time I reflected on our situation, I was reminded of how hopeless we were.

With a sigh, I picked myself up and got out of bed. I shouldn't be harboring these negative feelings, especially when some others looked up to me. And now that Fitzgerald was back and Rin was no longer able to maintain her oppressive role at keeping order, perhaps things might finally get better.


7:30

Exhibition

I almost didn't have the stomach to see this. Unfortunately, Monokuma had placed the exhibition at a rather inconvenient spot that none of us could ever avoid right between the residential area and the main hall. As I had feared, two more artifacts had been added since I last visited.

The first was a mechanical arm that looked surprisingly similar to the one that replaced Fitzgerald's that got chewed off by the Cerberus in the dungeon. The designs were uncannily the same, even if the one exhibited, likely a prototype, was slightly bulkier and lacked some of the refinements including the full enclosure of all wires and rotors beneath metal plates. It also lacked any proper paint job, and instead, its metal surface was covered in stickers with encouraging messages like "Don't give up!" or "Show them your spirit!". There were even serial numbers on some of the components which indicated Eliza must have scavenged the parts from other electronics to cobble this together. Overall, it reminded me of the heavy portable drill Hokuto had crafted at one point, the one he nearly killed Minako with. Comparing this to the one in use right next to me was like comparing the stopgap M3 Grant to the glorious M4 Sherman.

Nevertheless, there was still something to be liked for the mechanical arm inside the glass container. For all its roughness and high risk of causing trouble to whoever it was attached to, it had Eliza's personality written all over. It was her product, one that she crafted with care and passion. She probably had put her heart and soul into designing, redesigning, and overdesigning the thing. And even before I look at her name written on the plaque beneath the container, I could already tell only one person was capable of putting something like this together. By comparison, Fitzgerald's mechanical arm, a git from our liege Monokuma, was a soullessly practical object, produced in large quantities based on a refined blueprint and fine-tuned by many talents to superb functionality.

The writing on the plague under the glass container read: "Originally from parts scavenged from a refrigerator, a motorbike, and numerous appliances Eliza could get her hands on in the junkyard, the state-of-the-art prosthetic that would later take the world by storms had a humble beginning. Elize's pet project which she spent seven years working on all by herself would yield sweet fruits, even if its creator remained oblivious until her very end.".

"Wow, I didn't think she could become so successful," said Hokuto. "I thought most of her so-called inventions were junks. But this. I might have underestimated her."

"Her genius works in strange ways indeed," Minako remarked. I agreed with the statement. Eliza made up for her lack of intuition with a lot of passion. She earned her title as the Ultimate Tinker and a chance to enroll at Hope's Peak Academy for a good reason. "I always knew she had it in her to do great things. We just have to believe in each other a little more." Her quote would have been more inspiring under other circumstances, but it seemed that wasn't the case here.

"However, I have to doubt what sort of 'fruit' is being mentioned here," Rin pointed out.

"You are saying she crafted prosthetics for the Ultimate Despair," I said.

"What else?" asked Rin. She and I had been avoiding eye contact for now. Her broken arm had been neatly wrapped up, though it seemed it would take at least a few days until she could make full use of it.

"It made too much sense that way," Kai concurred.

"I don't want to think about what's logical and what's not anymore when this whole freaking world has been turned upside down," Inu groaned. The Ultimate Chemist had not mentally recovered from the blast. He had been fearful of getting the cut in the Mutual Killing Game since day one, and his paranoia had only increased after the incident the day before where his brush with death was too close for comfort. His eyes still dashed here and there as though searching for anything that might be used to kill him.

"Pique my curiosity," said Hokuto, exchanging glances between Fitzgerald's mechanical arm and the one on display. "But now that I am looking at this more closely, that arm does resemble the one on Fitzgerald right now."

"You aren't," said Fitzgerald. "When they attached this to me, I immediately find the design familiar. From what I have been following up to my incapacitation, Piket had been working on this for a while now, plus another prototype for what looked to be a pair of leg supporters that might come in handy for Yume."

I recalled Eliza saying something about giving Yume his legs back. I guessed that was how. It was unfortunate how things ended up between the two of them. More unfortunate was the fact the product of her blood and sweat had been employed in the business of destroying the world.

"Don't act so surprised," said Hijiri coldly. Her appearance had improved much since yesterday and she looked as elegant as a flamingo again. But we all knew better to trust someone so superficial on the outside and malicious on the inside.

"Let's not overthink," said Minako, trying to improve the mood. "Animals don't suffer from the same depression as humans because they don't speculate too much."

"I have no comment on that," I said.

"Me either," Kai confirmed.

"Yuza is right," said Fitzgerald. "We haven't learned the truth yet. So don't assume anything until then."

"And then what happens when we do learn the full extent of the truth?" asked Rin.

"Then we will manage," I replied. "As we always do."

"Are you always so optimistic?" asked Bianca. As the newest member of the crew, she hadn't gone through the bonding and tribulation as we did, though her lonely and fearful experience within the dungeon wasn't enviable either. "I thought one of the qualities of an accountant is skepticism."

How judgy, I thought. Then again, her talent did suggest she worked to bring the best out of people for her purpose.

"How does being gloomy help then?" I asked.

"Maybe it's more realistic not to expect too much," said Bianca.

"This is the lowest we can go, actually," said Hokuto. "We are at the bottom of the barrel already. And if we were to find that the barrel has a hole in it, well, fuck me."

"I don't like being overly pessimistic either," said Kai. "We are still alive despite all our brushes with death, after all, so that's something. There has to be a way. We'll just have to find it."

"As long as we still have each other," said Minako. "I am sure things will work out in the end."

"Each other?" asked Inu skeptically. "How many?"

"Eleven," said Fitzgerald.

"You can't be serious," Rin growled. I agreed with her. But I would also like to point out that her behaviors so far weren't helping either.

"I promised to save as many of you as I could, didn't I?" Fitzgerald countered.

"No more than Rin did," I replied. This earned a scowl from the Ultimate Police Woman, but the rest seemed to concur with the stance I took. We were all tired of having yet another would-be savior. So far, neither Rin, Hokuto, nor El Viento had lived up to their promises.

"You think you can do better, Mr. Know-it-all?" asked Hokuto. Probably at least better than his attempts which had the tendency of nearly killing us all, I supposed.

"I know I can," Fitzgerald answered. "I have not abandoned that objective no matter how many of you have forsaken your faith in each other."

All of us were dumbfounded by his speech. That seemed like the stuff of fantasy. While it was true that the situation we were in felt unreal, that was still a tall claim to make. The salvation of Yume and Hijiri aside, we didn't even have a plan to escape. All our efforts so far had been thwarted.

"I like that spirit," said Bianca, looking impressed. She took out a small book and jotted down some notes.

We left the topic for now and changed attention to the other newly added artifact.

Tatsuya's item on display was a shiny gold medal depicting a pair of winged sandals and the writing "Best Courier in Tokyo". As there was no way to examine it up close, I could not immediately tell if this was an official award he won or if his guardians had crafted it for him. The plaque beneath all but confirmed the former: "Presented to Tatsuya by the Governor of Tokyo himself, this medal represents the zenith of the Ultimate Delivery Boy and a shining reminder of his contribution to the city. Tatsuya was so happy when he received it that he kissed it for good luck every morning.".

It didn't look like much and there wasn't any controversy to spice things up. Nevertheless, there was something to like about its simplicity as well as how shiny it was. Just like our stuttering friend who once wore the medal.

Looking back at the other mementos inside containers, the journey towards gradual decline, both in numbers and in psychology, was all but obvious. I still wondered what would be exhibited when I died. I prayed no one would ever find out, for it would have certainly meant my doom.


8:00

Main Hall

Breakfast was relaxing. Though the foods had seen another drop in both quantity and quality, which made sense considering there were fewer mouths to feed, they were still remarkably good. We had roasted duck, five types of bread, seven soups, steamed potato mash, bountiful pastries, and an assortment of fresh fruits. The only thing missing was Yume's treats which I, as well as many others, were quite fond of. They were a break in the storm and genuinely one of the most pleasant things about being stuck in this horrid place. Unfortunately, after what he did, I doubted any of us would have the stomach to swallow whatever made by him from now on. He and Hijiri each quietly occupied their own table, hopefully reflecting on their actions and repenting. It would have been hypocritical for me to demand that from them, however.

My attention was drawn towards Kai who was trying to avoid Fitzgerald's line of sight for whatever reason. She did a pretty bad job at that and constantly bumped into a table or someone else while carrying her foot. As well, I also highly suspected the fact someone as slimy as Dirty Fitzgerald was oblivious to the fact she was wary of him, so her stunt was probably pointless to begin with. She looked shakier and more haggard than usual, and the food on her plate didn't make much sense: chicken wings, steamed beans, mayonnaise, and chocolate cupcakes together. It was a worrying sight. While Minako was more prone to mental breakdowns whenever shit was happening, she always recovered quickly and returned to more or less her lively self after some time. For Kai, it looked to be a long road down to the bottom.

In the end, I needn't call out to her. She came to me. And coincidentally, or perhaps as planned, El Viento was sitting right next to me.


Hang out with Akai "Kai" Omakase?

Yeah, sure/Not now

"I am so sorry for getting you two into trouble yesterday," Kai began with an apology, sloppily bowing her head before me and Fitzgerald. "It was all my fault. It was dark, and when I heard screaming, I panicked. I let my paranoia get the better of me."

"It's nothing serious, really," Amelda replied. "What happened last night was not your fault alone. All three of us shared responsibility for last night. We acted without thinking it through."

"And Hokuto?" asked El Viento.

"Nah, he's clean," Amelda chuckled. "He was more of a backup if anything. You, on the other hand, are probably the guiltiest of us all, El Viento."

"Me?" El Viento gasped.

"Her?" asked Kai, equally surprised by the accusation.

"You were the one who tackled Fitzgerald to the ground even though he wasn't resisting," said Amelda. "That's not how it's supposed to work when you break into someone else's domain on account of suspicious activities. I think even Rin understands that. Because of what you did, Minako was scared shitless, and everything just became confusing."

"If what I did was wrong, why didn't you stop me, then?" asked El Viento.

"And risk getting my ass handed to me again?" Amelda argued. "It's not like there was anything I and Hokuto could have done."

"Fair enough," El Viento conceded. "Ever since I got bested on the first day, I always thought the problem here was my lack of strength. It appeared having too much of it could be a liability, especially if it gives me the leeway to do unreasonable things without impunity."

"It seems you need to better control your power so that it will not become a burden," Kai pointed out. "As the Ultimate Ballerina, maybe I can give you a tip or two about expending just the right amount of force at the right time."

"Regarding what happened last night, you were outside when you heard what was going on in Fitzgerald's room, weren't you, Kai?" Amelda inquired. "The walls are supposed to be soundproof, and yours aren't even adjacent to his."

Kai was silent for a moment. Then, she said, "Yes, I was."

"And what were you doing outside?" asked El Viento. "Having some midnight snack like our little chemist amigo?"

"No, not that," said Kai.

"Is this something you have been waiting to do for a long time?" asked Amelda. "And now that Rin isn't holding everyone's Electronic-IDs anymore, you saw your chance."

"It's not like that," Kai insisted. "Look, I haven't been feeling well since... the very beginning. And it's getting worse. There is something gnawing inside me, a sense of foreboding and uneasiness that I cannot shake off. This isn't the first time this has happened to me."

"How did you recover from it previously?" asked El Viento. "Surely, if you have experience conquering the demon within, you should be able to replicate the success."

Kai sighed. "I never fully recovered. Every time I have been under even the slightest pressure, I have had erratic behaviors. Perhaps... having this talent was a mistake, after all."

"How so?" asked Amelda. "You are wonderful."

"I am," said Kai, frustrated. "But I can't help but maintain that status no matter what. Sometimes I feel like I don't even have a choice."

"Then what makes you get into ballet in the first place?" asked El Viento.

"I was young and naive back then," said Kai. "Ever since elementary school, I have been watching ballet performances on television. I would save it onto tapes, and then discs, and would watch them over and over. I was fascinated by the grace of the dancers' movements and how awe-inspiring they were. It was only a matter of time before I started copying their moves. My family realized I was pretty good at it, so I started attending a dancing club. I remember being top of the class."

"You seem pretty content with your talent so far," said Amelda. "What happened next?"

"My chance to shine finally came when a famous dancer I have been following was injured and couldn't perform at the Grand Ceremony," Kai continued. "The troupe made a gamble and asked me to fill in the role even though I have been on the public stage twice before that. I couldn't let them down. I practiced day and night for the occasion. And when that day came, I excelled beyond their expectation. The performance was a huge success and I became officially part of the team. Yet, the cost of it was gruesome. I had a seizure one day after the performance and had to be hospitalized. It appeared I slightly pushed myself a bit too much."

"That doesn't sound like a bit at all," said El Viento. "And after that, you still decided to continue?"

"Like I said, I was naive," said Kai. "And besides, I genuinely love dancing. A lot of people were placing their hopes on me and I simply didn't want to let anyone down. Also, the salary and performance bonuses were really good. I thought I could also help my parents a lot by becoming a professional ballerina."

"And I suppose that is where it spiraled out of control," said Amelda. "I know for a fact that art and culture industries may seem glamorous at first glance, but they aren't without their darker sides once you look carefully into them. One traditional dancing firm I audited replaced five lead dancers during one year alone, three of whom with significant compensations for damages, both physical and psychological."

"In a way, yes," Kai conceded. "The practice and rehearsals never felt enough for me, and I began spending more and more of my time committing to the art. All my time and all my effort for this one talent. It was an obsession, a honey trap that I only started realizing during my few moments of sanity. For several years, it devoured my whole life. My relationships were in tatters. My diet was ruined. My successes brought me moments of absolute joy amidst all the miseries I experienced. I thought it was worth it until the very dancer I had looked up to since the beginning decided to quit. They said she was injured or pregnant, but I believed she had seen the end of her journey and the futility of trying to maintain a top position indefinitely. After her, I took up the courage and retired as well."

"It's a good thing you did," said El Viento. "I know for a fact that professional wrestling is not much different. Some people I know feel like they are wasting their entire existence in the rings in exchange for the cheering of the crowd all the while receiving more lacerations and broken bones. Not all of us are cut out for that kind of life. You made the right call."

"But you still make a mark enough to catch the attention of Hope's Peak Academy," Amelda went on.

"I thought a lot about it," said Kai. "The school has a good reputation. I thought if anything could be done to curb the destructiveness of my talent, Hope's Peak Acamedy would know. As I said, I really love dancing and will never give it up. But I want to approach ballet more professionally. I thought if I were able to conquer my demons, then once graduating, I could start training other ballerinas so that they don't make the same mistakes as I did. And that's when we all end up here."

"And now the old habit is back?" asked Amelda. "I don't like calling people out, but your plate is..."

"A mess, I know," Kai accepted. "My eating disorder has returned in force and it feels no amount or quality of food could satiate my appetite."

"Is that why you were outside your room last night?" Amelda inquired. "You couldn't sleep because of anxiety and hunger."

"Part of it," said Kai. "However, the true reason was that I wanted to seek Fitzgerald's help. It was unfortunate that I brought him trouble instead."

"Why him?" asked Amelda, frowning.

"He doesn't look like a therapist," said El Viento.

"I am not doing well while under any amount of pressure," said Kai. "Whether it is because I am not as attractive to others as I thought, or my performance isn't as good as it could have been, and, of course, the Mutual Killing Game where my very life could end any moment. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, given his record and the injuries he sustained, is quite resilient. I trust his hypocrisy as much as you do, Amelda, but it would be nice if I learned how he managed to keep his cool all the time. Anything to keep me from falling apart. Now it seems I have sabotaged my only chance."

"I don't think he would mind," Amelda stated.

"Yeah, just ask him," said El Viento. "He's probably eavesdropping on us right now."

Hope's Shard Obtained!

Akai "Kai" Omakase

The Ultimate Ballerina at one point was nearly consumed by her very talent as she strived to become the best in the field. In the end, she made up her mind and decided it wasn't worth her deteriorating health. Despite this, she hoped to enter the industry again after her graduation from Hope's Peak Academy, more mature and disciplined this time around. The Mutual Killing Game drove a wedge in that dream and now her poor habits had resurfaced.


El Viento was echoing my sentiment regarding Fitzgerald. That guy was too nosy for his own good and I had every reason to believe he wouldn't simply pass up on our little gossip, especially as it explained why he was assaulted yesterday in the first place. Still, rather than making any move, he was acting oblivious to it for now. After what happened during the second trial, I would rather not seek any more advice from him. He seemed to grasp many facts I had no intention of knowing for the sake of my sanity. Still, I would not disregard his wisdom altogether. Perhaps Kai would have better luck having a talk with him somewhere down the line and, hopefully, the former's problem with anxiety and diet would be resolved. I just hoped she wouldn't become aloof like him.

Speaking of aloofness, it seemed Bianca was having no trouble getting along. Since the start of the morning, she had been writing down notes in a small book whenever she was addressed by someone. The Ultimate CEO was no doubt trying to learn more about the personalities and characteristics of the rest of the crew, her being a latecomer after all, stuff that should have been left to the HR department within a company. She was especially interested in El Viento which made sense. She tried talking to Inu, probably the closest to being a successful businessman around here, and Rin but those conversations didn't last very long and, apparently, weren't fruitful.

Our conversation came to an end when a meeting was convened by Fitzgerald. I hadn't expected this. If things went about as usual, there wouldn't be any time for a serious discussion. Monokuma should be jumpscaring us with the news that another section of Tartarus Keep had become open for exploration at any moment now. Not that I enjoyed his presence, but everybody here could agree that the best part of the Mutual Killing Game was having a previously locked region become accessible. So far, these small adventures had uncovered useful facilities alongside the secret horrors of the palace.

"Isn't this a bit too early for that?" asked Hokuto, frowning.

"There is no better time than this," Fitzgerald assured. "

"But isn't Monokuma going to have us explore another part of the castle soon?" asked Minako. I could tell that she was looking forward to this as much as I did.

"If we find any evidence this time, perhaps we can incorporate that into our discussion," Rin suggested.

"Didn't we already go over everything we had so far last night?" asked Inu tiredly.

"Not quite," said Fitzgerald. "There is something I have been keeping away from you guys. And you are all about to find out."

Before anyone could inquire what, all the lights turned off at once. As darkness suddenly descended and engulfed, the whole class erupted into a state of shock and bewilderment. Unable to see a thing, I remained in my seat lest I bumped into something or someone I would rather not. One of my hands balled into a fist and the other reached out into the dark. If someone was going after me, I would be ready. Not everyone came up with a rational response, however, and the number of hitches and clangs I heard among the commotion was proof of that.

"Hey, what is going on?"

"Who turns off the light?"

"What kind of joke is this? Fitzgerald, can you explain?"

"This is spooky. Eeeekk! Who's there?! No. Don't kill me! Arrghh! Ouch! That hurts!"

"Hang on in there. Let me help."

"Someone is killing Inu!"

"Where are they? Let me have them. Can't see shit, though. Someone give me the direction and my fist will do the rest."

"I know you have been dying to do this, but this is not the freaking damn time."

"Monokuma, Fitzgerald, what the hell are you doing?"

"Guys, you need to calm down. Panicking won't help. Just stay where you are."

"Hands check. Hands check!"

By the time power returned, only half of the lights were turned on. They were enough for us to properly see each other and our surroundings but the splendor of Tartarus Keep was all but lost, replaced by an eerie sense of foreboding. Taking stock of the situation, it was almost embarrassing how we so quickly descended into a state of panic during the blackout. It seemed everyone was on edge, and I couldn't blame them.

Inu was whining and clutching his head. The poor fellow must have tried to hide under the table when he thought someone was out for his blood, only to slam his head in the process. Minako was treating him. Despite total darkness, she had not only managed to locate him but was already helping him alleviate the pain. I was reminded that the jungle girl either had good night vision or could use her other senses to navigate in the dark, evident by her staying and sleeping in the Botanical Garden up until the first trial. She could have been a valuable asset during our raid into the dungeon if not for her weakness against zombies due to her religious belief.

Hijiri and Kai were embracing each other out of fear. Although it was the Ultimate Geisha who called out her friend for inappropriate touching, it didn't appear the other way around was also correct. Both had been quite frightened, after all. Upon realizing what they were doing, Hijiri shoved Kai away and the latter also pulled herself back.

Hokuto, Rin, and Bianca were also able to handle the situation well, each one of them no doubt quite used to operating in the dark. El Viento, on the other hand, was throwing her fists randomly in the air and it was a relief no one got caught for the result of that would have been catastrophic. As Kai said, the Ultimate Wrestler needed some self-control if she was going to use her great strength for good.

Speaking of self-control, I believed Fitzgerald owed us an explanation.

"What is this, Fitzgerald?" I belligerently questioned. "What in God's name did you do?"

"You playing some trick?" asked Rin, also outraged. "Did you learn that from Ashley?"

"This is no trick," replied Fitzgerald. "This is the moment we have been waiting for. This is our chance of escaping."

There was total silence as we stood dumbfounded by his words. We had been hearing this from Hokuto from time to time and all of his attempts so far had been a bust. Coming from Fitzgerald, it spoke volumes. The Ultimate Detective, as unlikeable as he was, would never jest something like this.

"What do you mean?" asked Hoktuo incredulously.

"This isn't the time to be playing around," Rin urged. "Let us know what are you planning."

"There will be time for that later," said Fitzgerald. "Right now, time is of the essence. What you just witnessed is an act of sabotage by an ally of us who has managed to infiltrate the Ultimate Despair. They are risking their own lives to allow us to live. Let's not waste it."

"Sabotage?" asked Kai. "You mean, all the cameras are...?"

"No longer recording," Fitzgerald confirmed. "It is why I am speaking this to you so overtly."

"Also Monokuma isn't showing up as he tends to do," said Minako.

"That's right," said Fitzgerald. "That should already tell you there is something wrong in their system. For a few hours from now, the enemy will no longer be able to track our movements nor activate the castle's extensive security system. We have the initiative on our side. We are currently in control. Would you argue that we shouldn't make good use of that?"

"That's a very tall statement," said Bianca. "Is he always like this?"

"Not at all," said Kai. "He is usually much more reserved than this."

"You mean you don't know about this at all?" I asked. "Weren't you two treated together?"

"Just because we were in the same infirmary doesn't mean we shared wards, you know," said Bianca, almost offended.

"What has come over you all of a sudden, Fitzgerald?" asked El Viento. "Throwing us into mortal danger isn't like you at all."

"What do you mean we are in control?" asked Rin. "Only you."

"I didn't sign up for this," I stated bluntly. As much as I wanted to escape from this accursed place, this had come out of the blue. I had expected it would take days for us to properly formulate a plan now that Fitzgerald returned. And now he simply dropped the bombshell on us by revealing he had come up with his own scheme without our input all along.

"Yeah, I never agreed to risk my life for this," Inu whimpered.

"Fitzgerald-kun, why didn't you tell us sooner?" asked Minako.

"And let this one-in-a-thousand-year opportunity go to waste by slipping it to our enemy?" Fitzgerald responded. "Not a chance of that."

"Who is this associate you are saying is sabotaging Monokuma?" El Viento pressed. "How do you know they can be trusted?"

"They are a friend of Hagakure," said Fitzerald plainly.

I slapped my forehead. All of this sounded preposterous. If people brought up this sort of evidence during an audit, I would reject them outright. "You mean that clairvoyant guy with the cryptic prophecy?"

"We haven't even fully deciphered the message behind it," said El Viento.

"Not to mention how do we know for sure they aren't lying about their friendship with Hagakure?" asked Hokuto.

"Or whether this Hagakure wants to help us in the first place," Rin pointed out.

Fitzgerald gave his answer as always. "I follow my intuition," he said. "It has served me well so far."

"When was the last time you were with a team?" I asked. "Has your intuition paid off for all people you held dear?"

Fitzgerald paused. For a moment, his expression showed a hint of uncertainty and regret that almost made me uncomfortable thinking I had touched upon a sensitive subject. As much as I wanted to tear him apart for his insane logic and unfathomable tendencies, personal assaults were never justified. Then, he returned his collected outlook and said, "We are on the same side, right? Didn't I say I will not leave any of you behind? I meant it."

"This is insane," said Inu feverishly. "Utter madness."

"None of here could have guessed you meant now," said Kai.

"We aren't even prepared," said Mianko. "We need some time."

"Which we do not have," Fitzgerald sharply pointed out. "The more this discussion lingers, the more our enemy regains their strength. We only have a window of opportunity, so here is my question for you: who wants to take the risk to get out of this nightmare? Whoever wishes to stay behind, feel free to do so. I won't force the decision on everyone."

"Bullshit," I called out. Big speeches, especially made by politicians and military leaders, had lost their appeal to me a long time ago. "This isn't a choice. It's a rhetoric question."

"There's no way anyone would choose division," Hokuto shouted, enraged.

"Yet, we stand divided," said Bianca.

"Thanks to him," said Rin, pointing at Fitzgerald.

Normally, this was where Yume would chime in and tell us to calm down. However, he and Hijiri remained speechless for the duration of our argument, their guilt rendering them speechless.

There was a long pause as all of us processed our current situation. This was the chance we had all been looking forward to. Yet, it had come so completely out of the blue and we were all in shock because of it. Much like a well-written plot of a novel or a movie, the climax was supposed to build up over time and the resolution of it should be the rational outcome of all the things the characters had been through, an equivalent result to the amount of effort expended rather than a deux ex machine. It didn't feel natural at all that our escape route would be placed on a silver platter for us without our input or even our knowledge in the first place.

There was simply no such thing as free lunch.

Except for the fact whatever was on our plate, we had to accept it. And Fitzgerald was right about one thing. The longer we tarried, the more we fed the self-fulfilled prophecy that this plan was fated to fail. And then, Dirty Fitzgerald would be the one to say 'I told you so'.

It would take someone brave enough to be the catalyst of our getting into motion. That person was exactly who I had been expecting.

"Fitzgerald, I can't say this is a good idea in my conscience," said Kai, stepping forward. A few minutes ago, she was shy at the prospect of asking Fitzgerald for help after getting him into trouble the night before. Now, there was confidence written on her face and she spoke with renewed vigor. "But I want to believe that this will work. I want to believe that you have thought this one out carefully. So, I'm in."

Now that she had spoken in favor of Fitzgerald, the rest of us quickly fell in line. Continuing to squabble over his morality would have done us no good.

"Looks like there isn't much of a choice for the rest of us," Hokuto conceded. "I'm in."

"I'm in as well," said El Viento. "Better than sitting here waiting for death, I guess."

"I'm in too," I said, not bothering to add any criticism. If this indeed succeeded, I didn't want to eat my words afterward. In any case, taking a shot in the dark was still better than getting pounced upon with the gun fully loaded.

"I'm in," said Rin following a sigh.

"Me too," said Minako. "Let's get out of this place together."

"No reason for me not to join you," said Bianca, taking another bite from a cupcake. Despite the starvation she endured before we found her in the dungeon, neither was her food tray particularly large nor did she gobble her food to make up for the lack of eating prior. Her well-kept rational habit earned points in my book, but not her snobbishness so far. "Though I must say, after months trapped in that damned basement, I was getting used to the luxury of this place."

"Is this the only way?" asked Inu. His head slamming into the table luckily didn't cause any marks, otherwise, it would have been embarrassing to be injured even before the escape plan was carried out. "I mean, what if... we all get killed? Can't we just wait for the rescue team to arrive?"

"If we stay, then we'll all be dead eventually," I told him. As much as I disliked vindicating Dirty Fitzgerald and his inflated ego, I highly doubted salvation would come easily nor could we ever hope to earn it through inactivity.

"Don't worry, little guy," El Viento assured him. "Just stay behind me and you'll be fine."

"Alright," Inu conceded. He looked towards me, then El Viento, then Fitzgerald, and finally Rin. The Ultimate Policewoman's expression was one of consent. "I'm going as well. But please, you guys have got to protect me. I... I can't possibly defend myself."

"We are not leaving anyone behind," El Viento confirmed. "That's a promise."

"You win, Fitgzerald," said Rin. "But what's the plan? You said your allies had infiltrated the Ultimate Despair and crippled their control over Tartarus Keep. I don't suppose we are just going to wait for the rescue."

"Nothing comes easy," said Fitzgerald. "And we still have much work to do."

"Which begs the question: how in hell are we going to get out of this place?" asked Hokuto.

"Through the dungeon," Fitzgerald replied. "Bianca and I have discussed. She found the door which leads to outside while she was stuck in there."

"I must remind you that it's locked, though," Bianca spoke. "I tried everything for weeks and it didn't budge. Do you guys think you will have better luck?"

"We can blow it up," said Fitzgerald.

"You said we were going through the dungeon," I stated. "Didn't they already seal off the entrance?"

Fitzgerald shrugged. "Not a problem if we can blow it up as well."

"You keep saying that," said Minako. "How do we procure the tool to do so?"

"Don't tell me...," Hokuto gasped.

"The very murder weapon of the previous case," said Rin. "That's what you're talking about, right?"

"I watched the whole trial on TV, remember?" said Fitzgerald. "I know that there are four explosive tubes and only one of them had been triggered. That means we have three available, haven't we, Yume?"

Fitzgerald's address put Yume in the spotlight for the first time during this conversation. Though it was already decided that Yume and Hijiri, for all the crimes they committed, shouldn't be abandoned, we still hadn't heard their opinion on the matter yet. It nagged me that we were deciding their fates for them even though neither of them had received any proper trial nor did we have any time to reconcile with them so far.

"Yes," said Yume.

"Those explosives will be helpful," agreed Hokuto. "But how did you manage to handle them in the first place? Your background as the Ultimate Baker doesn't seem to have anything to do with blowing stuff up." Eliza's title as the Ultimate Tinker also shouldn't have any correlation with explosions.

"I just... did," said Yume, unsure. "When I saw the bomb, it feels as though I had seen it a hundred times before, but I couldn't tell when or how. And when I go through the information in the instruction manual, it was like I had already learned it at some point and I was only refreshing my memories. It's crazy, I know."

The evidence he spoke was not considered during the trial where it was assumed that the weapon manual was enough to turn him into a bomb expert while the liquid ice allowed him to delay the explosives' activation long enough for him to deactivate them safely. Now that I thought about it, it only took Yume a day to learn how to disarm and then set up explosives. By comparison, I require a whole week at a military summer camp, plus a couple of instructors, to be able to do so.

It would appear this wasn't the first time Yume had worked with explosives. Just as when I attacked Hijiri in her room, it probably wasn't the first time I had attempted to kill someone out of anger.

"You are no crazier than anyone else," said Hijiri to the man who attempted to murder her. "You just had your reckoning. We aren't so much different. All of us."

"Shut up," Inu whimpered. "Shut up, you old hag. I am nothing like you."

"Stop saying dark stuff like that, Hijiri," Minako beckoned. "Please. Surely our friendship must mean something to you."

"She's a lost cause," I told Minako. "Just ignore whatever she says." Somehow, I didn't feel like disagreeing with Hijiri directly.

"Well, unlike you two, I haven't done anything to cause harm to our group," said El Viento. The same couldn't be said for Rin with her tyrannical rule, Hokuto with his horrible escape plans, or even myself who had been hiding my secrets from the others. "So shut the hell up or you are in for some roughhousing."

"Relay roughhousing until later," said Rin. I had a feeling she too wanted to take a shot at Hijiri without the interference of Monokuma or any member of our group. This obsession was probably the main reason why she, out of everyone, would be the one to advocate for Yume. "Right now, I don't care where Yume got all these explosive skills. We just have to make them work to our advantage this time."

"Then let's do it," Fitgzerald urged. "There's no more time to waste."

With firm determination to see this through using Fitzgerald's method, none of us, including Hijiri, had any argument and we immediately got started. As nagging as it was that the very thing that brought about the downfall of Tatsuya and Elize would be our salvation, we still had to try.

From that moment onward, we knew there was no turning back.

The Rubicon had been crossed.

So began the great prison break.


Author's Notes: It took me a long time but I have finally been able to put up another chapter to this story. On the Road to Despair is ongoing as we speak, and I hope it won't take so much time to write the next chapter.

I really want to see this story to the end. All of your kind reviews really matter to me. I appreciate everyone who has been reading and commenting on this. Hats off to you guys. You are awesome.

One part I particularly enjoy is the History of Despair segments where I explain more about the characters' background (which they themselves forget due to memory wipe) and their reasons for joining the Ultimate Despair in the first place. I prefer this over the simple brainwashing explanation in the anime.

So here we go. I hope you enjoy the story. Cheers to all.